My son, my only son, is seven-years old.
God willing, he will live another eighty or ninety years full of football games, of joy and wonder and heartbreak and exaltation.
Should he be so blessed, I doubt very highly if he will ever see a better game in his hopefully long and noteworthy life than the Colts 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
He's an unusually bright and sensitive boy, full of enthusiasm and obsessed with being right about everything. He's emotional, but reticent to display those emotions in public. When other are around, he is introverted and quiet.
As T.Y. Hilton streaked down the middle of the field with the last of his 13 catches, tallying up the 219th, 220th, 221st, 222nd, 223rd and 224th yards of his ridiculous record-breaking night, I didn't bother looking at the celebration on the sidelines or in the endzone.
I turned to my boy and saw his eyes wide and frantic as he screamed full-throat with 65,000 family members, jumping and hopping and shaking uncontrollably. My son, my only son, was in the club, forever a fan. The man whose jersey he was wearing had just led one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.
He is growing up with Andrew Luck. They are growing up together. Right before my eyes.
The First Half
There is only so much real analysis I can give about the game. There was too much insanity, too much desperation, too many high fives and hugs and screaming. They don't allow these things in the press box for good reason, but I was blessed not to be in the press box.
I can tell you that while the Chiefs fans were numerous, their number was not the issue. They were a loud, angry, aggressive bunch. Many were kind, but many more came to Indianapolis to cause trouble. I can tell you that even as a pacifist with his seven-year old boy present, I had to leave my seats for a quarter plus for fear I'd get into trouble. Don't misunderstand. I wasn't afraid of them. I was afraid of me.
I was watching the last decade-plus flash before eyes. While the Indy defense was being decimated by a second-tier quarterback and a brilliant offensive coach, I knew that it didn't matter if the Chiefs hung 40 on Indy. "They", the awful mindless "They" that breeds in the primordial ooze that seeps out of Bristol, Connecticut and pools around the feet of columnists, pundits and shock jocks across the land, were going to blame Luck for the loss.
It's just what "They" do.
In the first half, I saw flashes of what the Indy offense should have been all along. I let go of my anger and incredulity that has marked my commentary all year. The ceaseless questions like, "How can they pull Hilton off the field for a fullback?" or "How can Darius Heyward-Bey be the second receiver?" all melted away. Almost too late, Chuck Pagano figured it out.
I was frustrated. This team could have been so much more. If they had run that offense all year long, they would have won the two seed in the AFC. They would have been a Super Bowl contender, but they had let the window slam shut on 2013. The 'Seminole Chant' was echoing through Lucas Oil Stadium, faint but clear. No one was coming back from 28 points down.
Star Wars Numbers
The boy and I left our seats. We didn't leave the building, but we left our seats. We found an enclave away from the Chiefs fans and watched as Donald Brown, so expendable the coaching staff had him gunning on special teams to open the year scored two touchdowns. We watched as Robert Mathis does what Robert Mathis does best: separate quarterbacks from the ball.
We watched as Luck became something else entirely than what he has been in 2013. Gone was the Joe Flacco Facsimile the franchise had carefully crafted. He stopped being a glorified game manager whose most discernable skill was the ability to avoid the interception.
Instead, on the big stage he threw off his cloak and showed he was a jedi like his father before him.
He became the second coming of Peyton Manning.
The only reason why Luck didn't put up "Star Wars" numbers in 2013 is because the owner, the GM and the coach conspired against him. They didn't want the next Manning.
As the bedlam finally quieted last night and they celebrated the next step forward in the eventual creation of a championship team, I can only hope that Irsay, Grigson and Pagano fell to their individual and collective knees and whispered a prayer to Yoda in gratitude that the force is strong with Luck.
I saw him fire a torpedo into tiny exhaust port for the first touchdown of the game. Hilton is what? 5'8"? No one could hit a target that size. Far from one-in-a-million, Luck did it 13 times.
I saw him shake off every mistake. There was no try. There was only do.
I saw him reach out his hands draw the loose ball into his arms, then fly over the goal line to keep the dream alive.
29-for-45. 443 yards. 45 yards rushing. Five total touchdowns.
Star Wars numbers indeed.
The Next Level
If you let Luck run a no-huddle, vertical passing based offense, there are no limits. He is so good that if the Colts play the Patriots next week, he'll be the best player on the field. If they play the Broncos, he'll probably be the second-best player, but it will be very close, and he'll be far closer to Manning that anyone realizes.
He is ready now. The Colts still have plenty of flaws, but who in the AFC doesn't? They don't quite have the personnel to execute the no-huddle vertical passing game they have only recently discovered. But the genie hacked his way out of the bottle last night, and all the Stanley Havili's in the world won't be able to cram him back in.
By the time Luck hit Hilton for 64 glorious yards, the boy and I were already back in our seats, celebrating with family both biological and extended. Today, his voice is raspy and unusually deep, the fleeting wounds of unreasonable fandom.
He and Luck are growing up together. All I can do is watch and be grateful.
@NateDunlevy thanks for sharing those articles. Great reads! Go Colts
Really nice piece, Nate. You'll see at the following Twitter link why I really connected with it >>> https://twitter.com/amoshaffner/status/419632547442589696 - @amoshaffner
It is indeed wonderful to see the chains come off of Luck, but what I took away from the game is a better understanding of how to view and accept him. Up till now, too much conventional "wisdom" around Luck has been wrapped up in either making him the anti-Manning (for example, his gaining yards on runs, predicting he'll consistently be better than a "one-and-done playoff QB", etc.) or in saying that because of his ability he needs to continue to be a Manning type in running a no huddle and passing till the game's over. All of it is opinions about his role as influenced by what the opinion-holder brings to the debate, but practically none is about who Luck himself is and how that shapes his role for the future.
I said it on Twitter and I'll say it here and everywhere else: What characterizes Manning is a cool genius for what will happen on the field. What characterizes Luck is a mad, passionate genius for the same. And that right there sums up who each of them is, as well as why they get compared to each other, but it also illuminates why we keep missing the differences. They're both game geniuses, but not the same game geniuses.
I have to mix metaphors severely here to get the point across, but: Manning combines the sheer analytic ability of a Vulcan with the calm yet intense execution that a Romulan would display. His genius is cerebral, it's analytic, it's the product of much accumulated knowledge combined with an innate talent for understanding all of it in a unique way, and its release is tightly controlled, highly customized for the situation, and done to perfection out to the necessary significant digits. Luck steps out of the Star Trek field entirely and comes off instead as Dr. Who: What he does is still cerebral, it's still analytic, it's still very much a product of a vast accumulation of knowledge combined with amazing talent, but it manifests itself not in a tightly controlled release, but instead in what seems to be a mad cacaphony of expression that looks like it's coming out of nowhere, but in reality is the product of a genius and disciplined mind. It simply gets dressed differently, and on the initial face of it looks eccentric. But when examined deeply, it becomes obvious it's genius and not simply improvision depending on chance and fortune.
They both get it done, and they both do so with what they have up in their heads, but while both are analytic and intellectual, the end product is so very different it's wrong to try to describe it as being either similar or opposite.
Why is that significant? After all, a pass is a pass and a touchdown is a touchdown, whether thrown by an intellect like Manning or a physically brutish type like Roethlesberger. The answer is that it shows us that this sport, this crazy construct society spends so much time and effort on is not simply some superficial thing we humans put together to spoil ourselves with. It's not simply a celebration of hits and circus catches. It's instead a true expression of what people can do within arbitrary boundaries set in place to provide a framework for expression. Genius comes from seeing past the limitations of a 26 character alphabet or the 88 keys on a piano and coming up with a Ulysses or a 6th Symphony. And we appreciate the Joyces and Tchaikovsky because of that. Genius can also come out of finding a way to get a ball to one guy without being smothered by 11 others. And it's in the appreciation of that where real enjoyment comes.
If all we wanted to see were scoring machines, we'd have robots on the field. And the game would be sterile as a result. Instead, we have Manning and Luck, and our experience is richer because of it.
But the experience is not enriched by simply sticking players into molds. You can start there for a basis of understanding, but after a while, the differences need to be seen an understood for full appreciation. Luck is not Manning, and neither are simply delivery mechanisms for the ball. Luck provides his own art on the field for us to enjoy, and after watching him Saturday, I'm finally able to appreciate what he does on its own merits, without having to reference what's come before. His genius is not the surgical, precise one I've gotten used to seeing over the years, but it's a genius all the same, thank heaven for wild-card induced epiphanies. And I'm damn glad to be in a position to appreciate it.
Nate...I experienced the same exact thing with my 10 year old son. Never before could I think, he gets it. He was there with me for every play in the second half and was cheering and jumping in front of the TV every time Luck was shooting lasers into Chiefs secondary. What a memory, I will always think back to this game as the day my son became a fan!
Wait, did Nate just call TY a womprat? They're two meters long, right,,, just a bit more than TY. How funny would it be to get a #13 jersey with Womprat on the back. Well, funnier if I lived in Indy instead of Seattle.... A really wonderful piece, Nate.
Nice piece, Nate. Silly boy, if the Colts lost the blame would have been on Manning... somehow. Like he left a choke-virus in the locker room or something scientific an analytical like that. Professional jackoff Simmons would blame it on Manning face. There was some serious screaming here in Seattle. Loved the play calling. Haven't we been calling for that all season? Okay, I had been holding out hope, but I am finally with you 99%after the unforced fumble--TRich was a colossal mistake.
Great to "hear" you in print. Loved the article, love your passion. So glad your boy is being raised right. Go, Horse!!
We've got some pretty special players on this team. Also full respect to Pagano, who's in game adjustments made Reid look like a high school coach. One of the greatest games ever. Made me feel ill by then end due to the emotional roller coaster.
I had similar feelings watching at home with my 13 and 6 yr old boys. Told them to cherish this team and the special things we have come to expect from them. It is very rare, though they have been common in Indy for the past decade except in the playoffs and the mercifully short Painter interregnum. Also told the 6 yr old to expect to regularly see that highlight of Luck's fumble recovery TD until he's well into his 20's.
GREAT article! Brought a tear to my eye. It does all go way too fast. One of my better friends who left Philly and went to live in Alabama just passed away a few days ago. Crazy. 44 years old. Lifetime Eagles fan. We were JUST chatting on facebook about an Eagles/Colts SB possibility (until last night).
Unlike 2006 AFC game, I didn't give up this time. I paced and gritted my teeth, but kept my jersey on and patiently waited.
Worse thing is I want it to happen again! It's like today I don't know what to do with myself. I'm all stoked and excited, but there's nothing really going on. I read every account of the game, watched all the highlights again. Not enough.
Just saw that we're playing the Patriots in NE. Could we win that? I hope so. My biggest fear is that we win that, and Peyton beats Rivers (who's such a total jerk, I might add) and we face the Colts in the AFC Championship game. I won't know what to do with myself. I want Manning to have one more ring so people leave him alone, but I'm a Colts fan. But Manning only has a few years left. But SB runs are rare.
Not sure what to do. I guess take it one day at a time, and rewatch the game (maybe only the second half) from the DVR).
Anyway - thank goodness for this site. Best Colts site, hands down. Great writing and analysis.
So, new nickname....Luck Skywalker? And you might need a 12to13 styling ;-)
But what I really wanted to say about the article is how important it is for Colts fandom to be able to share those kinds of moments with their progenies (as well as for families to have that kind of bonding experience). A lot of people get onto Braves and Colts fans for not being as passionate (numerous?) as some of the older franchises fans. This certainly has a lot to do with a lot of the older generation not growing up with these teams even in their area. I know that neither team is exactly "new," but the Colts moved to Indy around the time I was born and the Braves moved to ATL when my dad was already a teenager. From a generational perspective, they're just now taking root and it's moments like those that will sink the roots in deep. Go Colts!
@NateDunlevy Great read. Is TY second coming of 88? Last night made me think so...more than just a slot receiver.
@NateDunlevy Magnificent - description of your son celebrating the touchdownn damn nearly bringing out tears
@NateDunlevy great article!
@NateDunlevy best article I've read in a long time. So glad you write for the Colts.
@NateDunlevy One of my favorite write-ups on the Colts ever. Thank you
@NateDunlevy luv the article. I too was disappointed in Chiefs fans. Was sitting in uppers with large contingent. Very obnoxious.
@NateDunlevy man, I remember dealing with Chiefs fans in the playoffs before. Second rudest fans ever, just behind Pittsburgh.
One thing, Nate. I know Manning is the ultimate QB for you, but I think Aaron Rodgers is a much better comparison to Luck. Either way I'm loving it.
I was at 06 AFCCG. it was just as amazing and just as stunning the next day. So glad you were able to share it with your son.
Nicely put, Nate
The weird thing about the season and that game I have lost all ability to be surprised. Throughout the roller coaster ride I kept thinking well they have comeback before... and they have been totally blown out. When the scored 45 points I thought well I didn't expect that, but I wasn't surprised. Luck, Mathis, and this team seem to be capable of nearly anything.
Bring the Patriots/Broncos! I have no idea what will happen, but whatever it is it won't be too surprising.
There are plenty of reasons to be grateful as a Colts fan including, of course, having had the opportunity to cheer for (and somehow identify) with Manning's insatiable quest for excellence, having the chance to anticipate and watch the unfolding of (and somehow identify with) the brilliant career of the "happy warrior", Andrew Luck … but not least, having you to capture and chronicle the “joy and wonder and heartbreak and exaltation” of the whole absurdly meaningful experience.
Bravo! On all accounts: bravo!
Sorry you ran into such unfortunate Chiefs fans. Your experience with them is exactly opposite of my experience with any I've ever encountered.
I can't wait to take my girls to a game.
@Bobman1My concern is the insinuation that Oliver Luck is Anakin Skywalker, but this is why you don't torture analogy to the point of breaking. ;)
Besides, how do you really fit Luck into a Star Wars analogy? He's got the sky high potential of Luke, the "Get It Done" reputation of Wedge, and the hirsute visage of Chewbacca. He doesn't really fit cleanly into any category, does he? I mean.... Wookie Jedi? We'd have to create a new EU character for Luck!
Luck Skybacca... aiyeeeee, my brain just broke...
He seems to be something more of a Victor Cruz type receiver, which is who he's most compared to given his speed and draft position as a slot receiver. He's been a third round steal to this point in his career.
@ScottAVogt No. He really doesn't have Marv's size or hands. Can be a very good receiver in this league though.
@NFLXpert Thank you!
Rodgers is smaller and slower than Luck, whose size disguises his athleticism. Recall that Luck has very similar NFL Combine metrics as Cam Newton. Prior to Seattle's game against Indy, Richard Sherman told his defense to treat Luck like Newton; Sherman played with Luck at Stanford. That special stuff between the ears is what sets the elite QBs apart. Grant him that he seems to have the right stuff and his athleticism promises to make Luck into one of those elite. Andrew Luck is a better athlete (metrics) than the elites; that's a fascinating edge.
There are stylistic elements in common, but I think he has the ability to dissect a defense like Manning. Also he does the comeback/close victory thing that Manning excels at but Rodgers has always struggle to do.
@NateDunlevy Have been going to games with my son since '06. He is 18 now. Enjoy the times...it goes by way too fast.